Archive for 2009

The Importance Of Character Customization

A topic that most people discuss when a new MMORPG is released is how flexible the character customization system is. Sure, everyone likes being able to look unique, grotesque, beautiful, weird or different but actually just how important is it to a game? Is it only aesthetic fluff or does it provide a deeper dimension to the player’s experience?

I think the answer lies in role playing. MMORPGs are (well, should be) first and foremost role playing games, something we often forget and overlook. Personally, the way my character looks is incredibly important to how I perceive him, how I want others to perceive him and how much I engage with him and thus the game. Being able to uniquely design my character within a MMO gives me the ability to identify myself as an individual, different from everyone else, and being able to customise my avatar to a high degree allows me to undertake the role play that I wish to pursue.

I know role playing is almost a dirty word now and one needs to look hard to find it many of the most popular MMORPGs (*cough* WoW *cough*) but, consciously or not, we all undertake it to some degree. Those moments that you spend choosing your race, face, hair, colour, build, gender and name all play a part of you creating your online persona. Even if you introduce with words like “yo, wassup dawg” instead of “hail, fine adventurer”, you’re still being perceived as a character and a role.

After playing a game like Age of Conan which allows a tremendous degree of customization, it’s difficult for me to strongly engage with my character in say, World of Warcraft. I loved walking into a tavern in AoC and being referred to as an “old man” by strangers that I met within. They could see my character, my role, and interact with it. Of course this type of role playing has a lot more to do with a game’s culture and environment but having that huge degree of character customization helped tremendously. I mean, when was the last time you actually studied someone’s face in WoW? Probably never at all because, honestly, they are so similar and hard to make out that they have almost no meaning.

It’s worth noting that I also think customization shouldn’t just be sliders for every dimension of an avatar’s face (no one really cares if your cheekbones are slightly higher up than someone elses) but rather it should be about bigger factors like age, weight, hairstyles, expression etc. We should be able to create any sort of character from a strapping young male with numerous scars to an doddery old man with a limp. Some games come close but none have yet to offer me the full features and flexibility that I desire.

So character customization is important and a very valuable part of any MMORPG, one that shouldn’t be overlooked or merely appreciated for it’s fluff value. Being able to craft a role for yourself in these games is highly important and can have a massive impact on the enjoyment that we, and the people that we interact with, get out of them.


What MMO Would You Like To See Get A Graphics Overhaul?

Ever since reading about Anarchy Online and the tentative graphics upgrade that it may be getting next year, I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the older MMORPGs that I love and wishing that they would get a similar treatment. I know, graphics aren’t everything but it’s tough going back to games like Dark Age of Camelot after playing something like Age of Conan. Plus, older games suffer from basic interface and control problems that have been unknowingly solved over the last few years and through the iterations of newer MMOs. For example, the UI and mouse controls in Anarchy Online are appalling bad and I can hope that they get revamped during the graphics overhaul process.

Aside from AO – which is probably the MMORPG more than any other that I want to see get a revamp (I’m on a Sci-Fi bender at the moment) – I think the game that I’d most like to see get a good overhaul would probably have to be Everquest. Cliché I know but it’s my first love… I guess it’s analogous to missing your first boyfriend/girlfriend but wishing they’d go in for some plastic surgery and liposuction so they could be the arm candy that you’ve always wanted.

Sure, EQ had a makeover in 2001 but that was a long time ago (almost 9 years, in fact) and it’s about time for another one. Everquest made headlines by combining top of the range graphics with RPG and MMO gameplay and then continued to lead the way for several years, freshening itself up along the way with the Shadows of Luclin expansion. What’s really odd is that SOE revamped the character models just two years after it came out but then haven’t done anything since.

A proper UI and control revamp would be nice whilst we’re at it. When I played Everquest, I used to control my character with the NumPad and just used the mouse for clicking on things. Now I play every MMORPG with the FPS inspired WASD + mouse look combo. I think we take good UIs and controls for granted now and certainly these older games could do with an upgrade.

So, what MMORPG would you like to see get a good graphics update?

P.S. If I had to suggest another game ripe for a graphics overhaul, I’d go with World of Warcraft. I think the environments look fine (and will look a lot better after Cataclysm hits I’m sure) but the original character models are just horrible.


Christmas Wish: Dark Tower MMORPG

Dear Santa Claus,

This year for Christmas I only want one thing: a Dark Tower MMORPG. Not one based on the contemporary Dark Tower lore, mind, but one based during the time frame of those awesome comic books I’ve been reading. Y’know, when Roland Deschain was but a horny teen, Gilead was still up and running and John Farson and the Crimson King were tearing stuff up.

Dark Tower - The Gunslinger Born

Dark Tower - The Gunslinger Born

The MMO would probably be skill based in nature, players training and learning skills to help them undertake whatever deed that needs to be done. Weapons (gun or melee), magic, diplomacy and crafting, along with ‘The Touch’ of course, would all be available to be learnt. Players would undertake quests throughout Mid-World, travelling between ancient cities, lush farm lands and the barren lands of radioactive hell. Mayhaps we might even glimpse the Dark Tower itself and the mysteries that lurk within.

No doubt everyone would want to be a Gunslinger so, Santa, you’d probably need to chat to folks like Mr King and Robin Furth to dig up some interesting lore about other factions and parties for people to join. Me, I quite fancy the idea of being one of Farson’s Harriers – or maybe even a Big Coffin Hunter – , trying to bring around the destruction of the beloved Gilead. Playing a human would do me fine, thankya sai, but others might like to play characters who are slightly mutated, twisted or even roont (+5 STR, +5 STA,-10 INT).

PvP between factions would be available for those who choose it. Farsoon wants to destroy Gilead and serve the Crimson King after all. It would be rough and tough and a just a little gory but then no one ever said war was pretty.

Mutants, guns, sorcery, crazy robot guardians and the weapons of the Great Old Ones.. what’s not to love in this twisted and apocalyptic MMORPG? Do ya kennit, Santa, I’ve been a good boy this year… please let it be mine.

Yours sincerely,

Gordon


2009 – A Bad Year For MMOs?

As 2009 is starting to draw to a close, I look back on the past 12 months and think about all of the new MMOs and expansions that have been released and feel a little flat. 2009 seemed like a bad year for MMORPGs.

No doubt there are gamers out there who think 2009 has been great and love games like Aion and Champions Online but to me it’s been a bit disappointing. I’ve been playing MMORPGs for over 10 years and some years you’re lucky enough to get exciting and innovative games and expansions and sometimes you’re not. After the explosive 2008 and compared to the tantalising 2010, 2009 has certainly felt like a fallow year – all of the significant games were either already released or won’t come out until next year.

As I said, “good” or “bad” is totally relative but I’m judging MMOs on their merits of innovation, enjoyment, intellectual property and general consumer choice. Last year we had some big releases like Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, driven by strong intellectual licenses and lots of hype. They also – whether we liked them not – introduced quite a lot of new concepts to the industry. Plus, let us not forget expansions like Wrath of the Lich King, Mines of Moria and The Shadow Odyssey to name a few.

For me, the 2009 releases of Aion and Champions Online just didn’t hit the mark and other games like Darkfall and Warrior Epic didn’t appeal to me. Aion, although fun for a while, didn’t offer anything new enough to excite me nor engrossing enough to engage me. Champions Online was quite fun but again, seemed a little dull and superficial (hopefully it will mature into something far more rewarding to play). Maybe it’s been due to the global recession but 2009 has seemed like a year for playing it safe and holding back.

If we look at things from a pure excitement and innovation factor, 2010 is sure to thrill. We’ve got some big IP games coming out (Star Trek Online, Final Fantasy XIV and quite possibly Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2) plus some interesting new takes on things with Global Agenda, Mortal Online, Jumpgate Evolution and an engine overhaul to that old classic, Anarchy Online. We’ll also see expansions for Everquest 2, Age of Conan, quite likely Warhammer Online and, of course, the drool-fest that is Cataclysm for World of Warcraft.

So maybe instead of calling this article “2009 – A Bad Year For MMOs”, I should’ve called it “2010 – A Great Year For MMOs?”.


EVE Online – Tempting Me Back With A Zephyr

EVE Online - Zephyr

EVE Online - Zephyr

Just as I was thinking about EVE Online today and considering going back to it, I received a nice email from CCP offering me 5 days free plus a gift if I resubscribed before 6th January. I also happen to have a 9 day holiday coming up next week… sounds like a perfect combination to me. Isn’t it nice when a plan comes together?

The free gift being offered (which I think even existing players are getting?) is the Zephyr starship. Apparently it’s good at exploration and wormhole travel. Having never been through a wormhole before (either in EVE or in real life), I have absolutely no idea what that means. But it is pretty.

It’s funny how such a simple thing can tempt players back, but then I suppose it’s an old tactic, Blizzard, for instance, using pets for everything from celebrating yearly anniversaries to encouraging account migration. Guess I’m just a sucker for a free, shiny toy cause I love that sort of stuff.

Now I just need a free trial for Age of Conan so I can test it out on my new PC without having to pay for it. Wouldn’t be nice if MMOs offered a generic “try-before-you-buy” option for anyone who’s been away for more than a couple of months? I’ve resubscribed to games on a whim and then never played them so many times before it’s not funny.


Need Suggestion For A High-Spec Game

With an imminent desktop upgrade looming, I’m pondering what games I should try out on it. Strangely enough, 2008 was a year for big hitters with heavy requirements that interested me (Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, BioShock, Mass Effect for example) yet 2009 has been relatively mild in comparison. Aion and Champions Online are both quite demanding but neither of them interest me and I haven’t seen many single player games with high system requirements that tickle my fancy either. This year I’ve mainly been playing less demanding games like World of Warcraft, EVE Online and Torchlight so I’d like to try out a game that really shows off my new PC. Anyone got any suggestions?

Of course, I’m tempted to install Age of Conan on the new PC just so I can see the glistening sweat roll off my tubby old bald men characters as I engage in battle, admiring their flab fly as they decapitate someone in full DX10 glory. I know AoC wouldn’t hold my interest for long though and a months subscription plus the pain of a 37 GB install and gigantic patches puts me off.

My system specs will be decent but not massively over the top (I’m not one of those guys who buys the latest CPUs and overclocks them just to squeeze out another 2fps in my games). I’m looking at an Intel i5-750 CPU, 4GB 1666MHz RAM, GeForce GTX 275, Asus P7P55D motherboard and Windows 7 64-bit. This is a significant enough upgrade over my old, and now dead, desktop and although I’m not expecting miracles, I’d like to see what it can do.

I’m considering trying out Champions Online as it’s an MMO that I think could be quite fun and demanding enough to give me a little thrill, y’know, down there when I see it run. WoW is fun ‘n all but it doesn’t quite provide the ga-ga factor that the more bueatiful games out there do.

2010 looks pretty slick in the games department though so maybe I should just hang in there and wait for the likes of Star Trek Online, Global Agenda, Mass Effect 2 and BioShock 2, all of which will be able to utilise my PC far more than WoW and EVE. But if you do have any suggestions for a good game, single player or MMO, that will show off a new computer though then please let me know. I have some ladies to impress. And by ladies, I mean guys. And by impress, I mean mildly bore as I geek out to the max.


I’m A Freemason And I’m OK

This post has nothing to do with MMORPGs unless of course you believe that Freemasons control the development of MMOs (which we do) along with everything else in the world. As you’re reading this, I’ll probably be seated in some dusty old lodge in Glasgow watching my dad be re-initiated as Grandmaster, a prestigious honour to say the least.

George Washington Was A Freemason

George Washington Was A Freemason

I can’t say much about the Freemasons (I was sworn to secrecy on pain of death… although the severity of which wavers depending on how drunk I am and how good looking you are) other than that I was initiated when I was 21, in accordance with English ‘law’, into my mother lodge in London. I achieved the full rank of Master Mason of the 3rd degree two years later and I’ve been slowly climbing up the ranks ever since.

Although my lips are sealed and my hands at my side unless pressed to prove myself as per tradition, I will make three statements about something that occurred during my first initiation ritual: two of these statements are false, one is true and it’s up to you to guess which.

During my first initiation ritual, I:

  1. Fought a wild boar to the death, naked (and won obviously).
  2. Whilst blindfolded and disorientated, was asked if my trousers would fall down if my belt was removed (it was removed).
  3. My arse was paddled thrice by different men in time to me kissing a silver compass.

Any guesses?